July/August 2008 Church & State | AU Bulletin

Americans United for Separation of Church and State has urged the U.S. Supreme Court to require government to remain neutral when it comes to religion.

In a June 23 friend-of-the-court brief, Americans United and allied groups asked the justices to overturn a lower court decision dealing with the display of religious monuments in a Utah public park.

In Pleasant Grove City v. Summum, a religious group called Summum asked to have its “Seven Aphorisms” displayed in a public park in Pleasant Grove, Utah. A Ten Commandments monument and other items are already displayed there. Summum argues it should also have the right to permanently display its religious code.

The 10th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals based its ruling on free-speech grounds, but Americans United hopes the Supreme Court will analyze the case using church-state principles instead.

Government, says AU, cannot play favorites among religions and deny a minority religious request because of discomfort with the less-known religious views.

“It’s not the government’s job to display the symbols of any faith,” said Americans United Executive Director Barry W. Lynn, in a press statement. “Our government should not – and, under our Constitution, may not – pick-and-choose among religions. This principle stands at the very heart of church-state separation.”

The brief asserts: “Religion plays so central a role in civil as well as personal identity in American society that when government associates itself with, or expresses a preference for, any denomination, it marks those of other faiths with a badge of inferiority just as insidious as when government prefers one race to another.”

In addition to AU, groups signing the brief included the American Jewish Committee, the Baptist Joint Committee for Religious Liberty, People For the American Way Foundation and the Anti-Defamation League.